Congress Avoids Shut-Down & Funds Government Through March 2013
On September 22, Congress extended funding for the federal government for six months. The continuing resolution agreement avoids a government shutdown that would have occurred if existing appropriations were allowed to expire on September 30. The legislation, H. J. Res. 117, preserves existing programs that were authorized and funded in Fiscal Year 2012 appropriations, including Overseas Comparability Pay (OCP), and includes a 0.612 percent funding increase for the cost of operations for most programs.
Although draft proposals for most appropriations bills were approved by Congressional committees earlier this year, the House of Representatives only voted on half of the dozen appropriations bills necessary to fund the government in Fiscal Year 2013, and the Senate has not taken any votes on appropriations. AFSA’s previous updates have detailed the different spending proposals and the effects they would have on the Foreign Service.
Although the continuing resolution provides an additional six months for legislators to work out compromises between different funding proposals, there is little expectation that any action will happen before next year. Congress has recessed for the next six weeks while members campaign for the election in November, and it is expected that debate on legislation to avoid the “fiscal cliff” will be the focus of the lame duck session before the next Congress begins in January 2013.
One measure that Congress is likely to finalize before the end of the year is the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, which improves protections for federal employees that point out waste, fraud, and abuse. The Senate passed a version of the bill in May, but because of changes made during consideration in the House of Representatives, the legislation will need to be reapproved by the Senate when Congress reconvenes in November.
Benghazi Tragedy Draws Attention to the Foreign Service
AFSA continues to engage with legislators and their staff to educate them about the important work that the Foreign Service does and the risks and dangers faced by Foreign Service professionals in posts around the globe. The recent tragic events in Libya have drawn more attention to the Foreign Service and to our diplomatic service and we hope it will foster better understanding of the risks and dangers inherent to Foreign Service work and to underscore the need for adequate resources both for physical security and for more and better regional, linguistic and cultural training and education. We will continue to work to secure the resources necessary to promote diplomatic readiness and a well-trained, professional Foreign Service. It should be noted that in the aftermath of the Libya attacks, the House and Senate both passed resolutions recognizing the Benghazi victims. Additionally, the Senate passed a separate resolution recognizing the men and women of the Foreign Service and their work around the world.
STOCK Act Delayed Again, Study Pending
On September 28, President Obama signed into law legislation passed that same day by Congress to delay implementation of the STOCK Act’s online posting requirements until December 8. Additionally, the legislation calls for a study by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) to be completed within six months to determine how the STOCK Act’s online posting requirements affect federal employees. The disconnect between the December 8 deadline and when the study will be completed next year has already been noted by some members of Congress – Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) has already called for further delays until the results of the study are available and can be taken into account.
AFSA, along with a coalition of organizations representing federal employees, has been working for several months to prevent provisions from the STOCK Act that would require personal financial information for more than 28,000 federal employees to be posted publically online. In addition to increased risk of identity theft that all federal employees subject to online posting requirements would face, AFSA has been highlighting the fact that Foreign Service personnel serving overseas faced additional risks of being targeted by hostile intelligence agencies or made targets for abduction for ransom based on publically available financial information.
AFSA and our coalition partners are also pursuing a legal challenge to the STOCK Act’s public posting requirements on the basis that they violate federal employees’ right to privacy. Additional information on the STOCK Act and our efforts to prevent public posting requirements from taking effect can be found on AFSA’s STOCK Act web page.